Filmsite Movie Review
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Mel At the Bar with Marcia - Mel's Expose Book About Lonesome:

Mel revealed that he hadn't retreated back to Memphis as planned, but remained in New York to write a book - an expose on the fraudulent character of Lonesome, entitled 'Demagogue in Denim.' His critical expose was designed to unmask the real scoundrel under the trappings of a good-ol' boy:

Never had such a good time in my life....All those months he was calling me Vanderbilt '44 and Frontal Lobe when I should've been punchin' him in the nose. Well, now I got the book to punch him in the nose...Came up to sign the contracts. Publishers are real high on it. They think the time is right to pull the mask off him. Let the public see what a fraud he really is.

Marcia turned away and slightly defended Lonesome - claiming it was becoming challenging for him with so many "political big shots" angling to influence him, and changing him:

I wouldn't say that...Well, it's just that it's harder for him to be as simple as he was with all those Generals and Senators and political big shots hanging around him all the time.

Mel realized, sadly, that Marcia still harbored love for Lonesome: "You're still with him." She admitted that she had no alternative but to remain allied with Lonesome - mostly for financial reasons:

Well, at least I tone down some of the crazier notions he wants to spout on the air. And I seem to be the only person he can talk to anymore. I keep a lot of people from getting fired, and - well, there's an awful lot of money at stake. Our agency, the one we started with International Drug Account, is doing a gross business of over $100 million a year.

When Mel snidely asked: "And how are the Mama Guitars selling?", Marcia (fiddling to light a second cigarette) regretfully confessed that she had created, as Dr. Frankenstein had, an out-of-control, monstrous 'celebrity' persona, and therefore felt responsible for sticking with him, and trying to "make him better." Mel harshly believed that she had allowed herself to be exploited:

Marcia: Mel, I found him. He's mine for better or worse, and I keep doing my small bit to make him better.
Mel: Marcia, you know what you are? You're the locker room where he eases up after the fight, win or lose. You're the shock absorber for collisions with ex-wives and models and new wives and assorted tramps. You're the little wheel of efficiency without which the great streamlined express called Lonesome Rhodes plunges off the track and leaps to destruction.
Marcia: I can hardly wait to read that book.
Mel: Don't you worry, I've spared you more than you've spared yourself.
Marcia: I know. I know.
Mel (as he departed): I'll call you again sometime, when I think you're ready.

Agent Joey's Affair With Betty Lou:

When Lonesome arrived in his penthouse suite calling out to Betty Lou about the latest Gallup Poll results, he found Joey suspiciously emerging from the shadows in his bedroom. Reacting to Lonesome's look of utter rage, Joey urged him: "You're not going to hit me" - as Lonesome's song: "An Old Fashioned Marriage" played on the soundtrack. Although Lonesome was threatening to strike his slimy and sleazy agent, the caddish, sleazy Joey counter-threatened:

Don't play the noble defender of the sanctity of marriage with me, Papa Man. I know where you've been some of those nights when Betty was waitin' up for you. You hit me, and it'll be all over the papers. As much as the people love you tonight, they can hate you.

Lonesome went a step further and fired his cheating agent ("You're fired. You're through with Lonesome"), but Joey shot back with news that he owned 51% of the company and that they were locked together in a business arrangement:

I've got news that'll move you and shake you. I'm president of Lonesome Rhodes Enterprises. I own 51 percent of the votin' stock. You're in bed with me, Larry. In bed.

After Joey left, Betty Lou tentatively peeked out of the bedroom entryway, wearing a low-cut formal gown with a fur piece around her neck and holding an ice cream soda glass in hand. Lonesome contacted Beanie by phone and ordered Betty Lou back to Arkansas on the train, effectively nullifying their relationship, and canceling her upcoming appearance on the popular TV variety program, The Ed Sullivan Show:

Lonesome: (To Beanie) Get Mrs. Rhodes a 'roomette' on the next train to Little Rock. (To Betty Lou) You don't own 51% of the stock. You're fired.
Betty Lou: Fired? Oh, Lonesome. Lonesome, nothing - nothing happened, really. (He zipped up the side of her dress)
Lonesome: I'm gonna treat you like any performer on my show that flops. I got a contract with ya. You'll get your money every week as long as you stay in Arkansas.
Betty Lou: But I don't wanna go home. Besides, Ed Sullivan wants me to do my double-fire baton dance on his show Sunday night.
Lonesome: You can do your double-fire baton-twirling dance in the ladies' room of the Little Rock depot.

Betty Lou reacted by shrieking and running into her bedroom where she flopped herself onto the bed and tossed a large stuffed animal at the wall.

Late Night Visit to Marcia - Lonesome's Disturbing Revelations:

After the devastating discovery of Joey's affair with Betty Lou, Lonesome ran off - in the rain - to pay a late night visit to Marcia's apartment to regain a sense of decency and sanity. As Mel had predicted, she was functioning as Lonesome's 'locker room' ("You're the shock absorber for collisions with ex-wives and models and new wives and assorted tramps"). In the dark, Marcia was awakened by Lonesome's anxious pounding at her door ("It's me, big me, the king...Lonesome's back!"). She answered in a black nightgown, and as he entered, he hastily began undressing as he sat on her bed (and assumed they would be having sex), and hyperactively told her what had happened:

Lonesome: Just got rid of Betty Lou. Sweet-talkin' little floozy. She'd have ruined me, that's what she'd have done. Fix me a drink.
Marcia: What are you doin'?
Lonesome: We'll have to be more careful than we used to be. I'll have to stay married till I get my new appointment.
Marcia: Your what?
Lonesome: This is still top-secret. The General's been talkin' to Fuller. He's sellin' him on the idea of creatin' a new Cabinet post for me. 'In time of imminent crisis and danger.' That's the way the General puts it. Who could rally the people better than I could? Hold 'em in line right behind the government. If we put Fuller across the way I know we're gonna, he's gonna owe me that. Secretary for National Morale. How's that sound to you, Marcia? Secretary for National Morale. (Marcia appeared shocked) General's askin' Fuller to shake hands on it with me after the big banquet I'm throwin' tomorrow night, launchin' Fighters For Fuller.
Marcia: Fighters For Fuller?
Lonesome: Yeah, Fighters For Fuller. How do you like that name, huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? I made it up. Everybody's, everybody's nuts about it. I got twenty of the biggest men in this country comin' to my banquet tomorrow night to get Fighters for Fuller rollin'. I got a retired admiral from the Joint Chiefs, two Governors, some of them big investment-house boys, and a Cabinet minister.

With the General's maneuvering, he had been orchestrating his meteoric political rise to a powerful position in government, by being appointed to a new Cabinet position, US Secretary for National Morale, if Senator Fuller was elected President. A kickoff to his newfound political clout would occur with his hosting of a large party-banquet in his penthouse the following evening for a group of politicos - he would promote an organization ("Fighters For Fuller") to support the Senator that would land him in the White House - in exchange for a promise of political ascendancy for himself in one of Fuller's new and powerful Cabinet positions.

During the revealing and disturbing bedroom scene, he expressed confidence that he was the king-pin in the plan - it was a startling revelation that he had become insatiably power-hungry in his quest to help Senator Worthington Fuller with his presidential campaign. He delivered a disturbing, arrogant power-trip confession to Marcia that his audience would sheepishly follow him anywhere - directed to wherever he wished. He transparently revealed his toxic, self-loathing scorn for his own inferior, populist audience, as he had done years earlier as they left the town of Riddle for Memphis on the train. As he laid back on her bed, he continued about how he would be the power behind the president, and she would be the power behind him:

Marcia: And they're comin' to your party?
Lonesome: Oh, honey. If I ask 'em, they gotta come. Baby, they'd be afraid not to come. I could murder 'em like this: (He guffawed loudly)
Marcia: I'm afraid it's true.
Lonesome: What's true?
Marcia: Right here, tonight, you might have that much power.
Lonesome: Seen the new ratings this mornin'? 53.7. (He drew the numbers in the air with his finger) Just picked up another million. This whole country's just like my flock of sheep.
Marcia: Sheep.
Lonesome: Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers. Everybody that's got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. They don't know it yet, but they're all gonna be 'Fighters For Fuller.' They're mine. I own 'em. They think like I do. Only they're even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for 'em. Marcia, you just wait and see. (He grabbed both sides of her face with his two hands) I'm gonna be the power behind the President, and you'll be the power behind me. You made me, Marcia. You made me. I always say that. I owe it all to you. I owe it all to you. All to you.
Marcia: I know it. I know it. I know it.

In that moment when he asserted "You made me," Marcia realized that she had built his rise to stardom, and likewise, she had to defeat, stop, or destroy his megalomaniacal assertions. Instead of getting in bed with him, she reached over, turned out the light, ran to her closet and hurriedly dressed, and proceeded out into the dark and rainy street.

Lonesome's National TV Cracker Barrel Show the Next Day:

The next day, as Lonesome poured himself another drink at his office desk (he rejected the offer of coffee from one of his secretaries), his TV producer predicted chaos for the upcoming show - he blamed the mess because Marcia didn't show up all day and couldn't be located. When the producer insisted: "She's the only one who can coordinate," Lonesome berated his staff with vitriolic language and name-calling:

Coordinate, hell. Do you mean to tell me the success of my show depends on one self-important, neurotic, temperamental female? I'm fed up with the whole lot of you incompetents, nincompoops, bootlickers.

He was self-assured that he could hold the show together by ad-libbing on his own before walking out: "Okay, I'll handle it....Ad-lib. Just keep up with me. I've saved the show before." As predicted, there was chaos in the control room during the show. As the show was about to wrap, Marcia (who murmured "I don't care") stumbled through the control room, and smoked a cigarette in the sound booth. She heard Lonesome asking on-camera:

Where's that un-modern uncomplicated, un-liberated, but oh-so-happy one-man woman gone?

When he then asked, off-camera and off-the-air, for the control room to run a home movie about his weekend trip duck-shooting with 'Curly' (Senator Fuller's new nickname) and there was a delay, he was furious: "Hey, you lunkheads up there in the projection room, show us the movie!" He spotted Marcia in the sound booth and viciously screamed at her through the thick window: "I wanna talk to you. I can't tonight because I gotta rush over to the banquet. But first thing in the morning. In my office, in the morning." Lonesome continued to criticize his hard-working staff: "I'm surrounded by a lot of dim-witted sons of...," but then when he returned to the stage and was on-camera, he suddenly reverted to his charming persona for the audience, spouting an aphorism: "The family that prays together stays together.".

After the national TV show concluded and went off the air for a few moments, Lonesome believed that his microphone had been cut off. He was relieved that the show was over, but was boiling mad: ("I'm glad that's over. I'm gonna start shootin' people instead of ducks"). During the closing advertisements and crawling credits, Lonesome sarcastically mocked 'Curly' as not really a "great hunter." The soundman next to Marcia fantasized: "Oh, if they ever heard the way that psycho really talks" - inspiring her to expose him.

The Exposure of the Fraudulent Lonesome Rhodes:

In the sound booth, Marcia deliberately turned up the sound switches to turn on Rhodes' studio microphone so that his adoring audience could hear their idolized, genial country boy personally and nastily insulting them. One of the good ol' boy characters on stage remarked to Lonesome how Senator Fuller was a fake: "Can you really sell that stiff as a 'man among men'?"

In the shocking sequence, the fraudulent megalomaniac and demagogue celebrity expressed his utter contempt for his mass audience - deriding them, and mocking them as stupid morons and fools who were watching him at home. There were inserts of the General and Senator Fuller (dressing for the banquet) aghast as they listened to his cynicism:

To those morons out there? Shucks, I can take chicken fertilizer and sell it to 'em for caviar. I can make 'em eat dog food, and they'll think it's steak. Sure, I got 'em like this. You know what the public's like? A cage full of guinea pigs. Good night, you stupid idiots. Good night, you miserable slobs. They're a lot of trained seals. I toss 'em a dead fish, and they'll flap their flippers.

Despondent over destroying him, Marcia sobbed in the booth, as betrayed, furious fans in different settings wondered to themselves what they had just heard, and decided to turn on him by phoning the FBN (Federal Broadcasting Network):

  • (Card-playing ladies) Why, he's a monster! I'm gonna call the station and give them a piece of my mind.
  • (Hardhat workers in a bar) We'll fix you, jerk.
  • (Mrs. Rhodes with a Confidential magazine in her hand, in the company of two hotel bellboys, drinking beers) I knew he'd open his big yap once too often and blow my three Gs.
  • (A nurse in Mr. Macey's hospital room, where Macey was recovering from a heart attack) Mr. Macey, I can hardly believe that's the same Lonesome Rhodes.
  • (Mr. Macey's response) It is, only this time his personality finally came through.

The Rapid Demise and Downfall of Lonesome Rhodes:

On the top floor of the studio (above the 42nd floor), the elevator operator symbolically foretold Lonesome's ultimate career demise as he entered the lift - taking Lonesome down (with Beanie) to the lobby as he was rushing home to his penthouse for the scheduled banquet:

Elevator Operator: Held the elevator for you, Mr. R. The Lonesome Rhodes Express, going down.
Lonesome: All the way down, lad.

Angry callers besieged the phone lines into FBN with intense criticisms as the elevator floor light buttons illuminated at various floors during its descent:

  • (Card players) You can just tell him I'll never listen to his filthy program again.
  • (Hardhat workers) So we're slobs, are we? You can tell Lonesome Rhodes for me...
  • (General Haynesworth to the FBN President, asking to break off with Lonesome) I said, are we paying your network $100,000 an hour to build up our business or destroy it?...Got to keep this scandal from rubbing off on Vitajex. I mean dissociate ourselves...You'd better come up fast with a new replacement.

When the elevator plummeted down to the lobby level (with Lonesome's own fortunes precipitously declining), he continued his derogatory statements, not realizing that his audience and advertisers were deserting him in droves:

Elevator Operator: Well, I got you down in a hurry, Mr. Rhodes.
Lonesome (to Beanie): Give him a buck for not stopping to pick up the peasants.

The FBN President conversed by phone with Rhodes' agent DePalma, citing their contractual 'morals clause' as enough justification for cancelling Lonesome's show ("That's right, DePalma, you know your contract, the morals clause. Any act abusing public confidence"). DePalma was undeterred and already had someone waiting in the wings to replace him: "I think I've got just the boy to fill the gap. Yeah, Barry Mills. Mm-hmm. Yeah. He's a young Lonesome Rhodes and a lot easier to handle." Sitting next to DePalma in a restaurant, Southern-accented Barry Mills (Rip Torn) modestly claimed: "Buddy, I'm just a country boy."

In his limousine, Lonesome poured himself a drink as he urged his driver to speed to his penthouse, since he had only 30 minutes until the banquet commenced. In the Variety magazine printing room, the headlines were prepared for the next issue, Wednesday, November 21, 1956, and read outloud by one of the printers (Willie Feibel):

L.R.'s Blooper Tops Unk Don's
50 Million Fans Shocked

Lonesome Roads (sic) went that-a-way
fast last Friday night when his
scandalous performance shocked
50 million forever fans.

[Note: This was a reference to an urban legend surrounding children's radio show host Uncle Don Carney, who allegedly spoke into an open microphone at the end of his live show and berated his young audience, calling them "little bastards." ]

A second printer (Larry Casazza) reacted: "I never seen what people saw in that guy, but whatever it was, he's had it."

Lonesome's Abandoned Penthouse Banquet:

Mel entered the deserted FBN studio, inquiring pessimistically: "Like the sinking of the Titanic. A night to remember. What happened?" He was directed to a saddened Marcia still in the darkened sound booth. There, he complimented her for exposing Lonesome's duplicity: "I hear you just wrote the ending to my book."

An urgent phone call from rabble-rousing Lonesome to Marcia came from his empty penthouse, and he was begging for her support. She listened without responding but ducked her head, as he moaned that all of his esteemed guests for a fancy dinner party of political elites had canceled and he was left suffering a spectacular downfall and melt-down. He was seated at the head of a long banquet table next to two huge portraits of a smiling Fuller flanking him on either side. He was obviously drunk, incensed and delusional - and alone, attended only by black butlers and servants (whom he desperately begged to love him) and a tuxedoed Beanie:

Oh, Marcia, I need you. Come over right away. Nobody's come, everybody canceled out. Fuller didn't even send me a wire. The General sent me a wire. The Secretary of the Interior sent me a wire. 'Regret to inform you.' 'Unavoidably detained.' 'Unable to attend.' All of a sudden, everybody's too busy. All of a sudden, I'm - I'm poison.

(To his impassive black servers standing in a line) You laughin' at me? Huh? You laughin' at me? You think I'm washed up, don't ya? The same way I lost them, I'll get 'em back again. I'm gonna make 'em love me. You're gonna love me. Say you're gonna love me. Say you're gonna love me. You're gonna love me. You're gonna love me. All right, say you're gonna love me. All right, you, say you're gonna love me. Say you're gonna love me! You're gonna love me! You're gonna love me!

He personally confronted and grabbed Francis (the one elderly servant who had gestured that Lonesome was going 'loco mad' by drawing a circle at his temple with a white-gloved hand), and shook him by his shoulders as he embraced him. As he raged on, he narcissistically pleaded for his love, and then threw all of the servants out with a racial slur: "Get out, you dressed-up black monkeys. You turn my stomach. Get out!" He returned to the phone to again implore Marcia to come to him: "Marcia. Marcia, how soon can you get here? I'm surrounded by traitors." At first, he wasn't aware that she was the one who kept his microphone on, and instead blamed the live microphone fiasco on his sound engineer: "That engineer, wait till I get him. I'll fire him. I'll burn him over a slow fire."

Become more desperate and raving mad, he threatened to suicidally jump from his penthouse and end his life, and Marcia responded by encouraging him with a scream of desperate hurt at being betrayed and duped:

Lonesome: Marcia, if you don't come right away, I'll jump! I'll jump! I'll jump!
Marcia: (sobbing) Jump. Jump! Get out of my life! Get out of everybody's life. Jump. Jump. Jump.

After Mel hung up the phone, he didn't believe that Marcia meant what she said, and asked why she didn't admit on the phone that she was the one who had turned on his microphone. She struggled to explain her reluctance to come clean, explaining that she needed to disown him "face-to-face." As the phone rang back, without being answered, Mel insisted that she inform Lonesome how she really felt about him ("chop it off clean"), in order to get rid of him for good:

Mel: Let's make it harder. I think you should go up and tell him face to face before he blames it on 20 other guys. Face to face, and then maybe I'll believe you.
Marcia: It's never as simple as that.
Mel: Finally, you gotta force complicated things into simple channels like this. Either you go up there and tell him it was you who did it and chop it off clean so he never comes cryin' to you again, or you hold his hand, wipe his poor, perspiring brow, fan his smoldering, dampened ego so it can burst up into flames and burn.

The Final Confrontation with Marcia at Lonesome's Penthouse:

In the film's devastating conclusion, Mel convinced Marcia to pay one last visit to Lonesome's penthouse, decorated with a "FIGHTERS FOR FULLER" banner. When Mel escorted her there, they saw his dark shadow reflected onto the banquet table as he stood on the bedroom's balcony above, gesturing and preaching to an unseen and fantasized crowd below. He was bolstered by his 'applause machine' (with the loud sound of pre-recorded fake accolades) manned by Beanie. He had been ranting and raving like a mad-man, according to the elevator operator:

Lonesome: Secretary for National Morale is a job that I was born for.
Elevator Operator: Somebody ought to send for a doctor. He's been screamin' like that for 20 minutes.
Lonesome: In a time of crisis, who else could rally the people like Lonesome Rhodes? Who else could move the people to action like Lonesome Rhodes? Ha! You are looking at America's answer to the crying need for national...

Aghast with her hands to her face, Marcia looked up in horror and emotional pain at Lonesome one story above her, as he continued his delusionary rant about himself:

Maybe I'm just a country boy, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. But if the President tries to stop me, I'll flood the White House with millions of telegrams. I made him, and I can break him. Yeah! Ha! Yeah, you know I can. Because the people listen to Lonesome Rhodes. Because the people love Lonesome Rhodes. Lonesome Rhodes is the people. The people is Lonesome Rhodes.

Mel glanced at the banquet banner: "THERE'S NOTHING AS TRUSTWORTHY – AS THE ORDINARY MIND OF THE ORDINARY MAN" - Lonesome Rhodes. He also heard the grief-stricken, displaced Lonesome singing the lyrics to a blues song: "Ten thousand miles away from home, And I don't even know my name." When Rhodes spotted Marcia below him, he gleefully rushed down his balcony stairs to her, and grabbed her, hoping for her acceptance and vowing that he could convince his public to support him again:

Marcia. I knew you'd come. I knew you'd get here. Listen, Marcia, I lost 'em. But all I gotta do is talk with 'em one more time. Yeah, I'll tell 'em, I'll tell 'em I just said that to see how many is really listenin'. Ha, ha, ha. Yeah. Sure, I'll have 'em eatin' out of my hands again just like old times.

And then, Marcia offered him a devastating denouncement - she was the one who had betrayed him: "Larry, it was me." But he wasn't listening as he chastised his own sound engineer: "Then I'm back on top again. First thing I do when I'm back on top, I'll get that sound man. I'll get that dirty, stinkin' little mechanical genius." A second time, Marcia calmly admitted: "It was me. I held the key open. On purpose. I'm tellin' you this so you'll never call me again. Never again." He accepted her confession, called her his pet name: "My marshmallow," and wished her luck: "Good luck with Mel." Before leaving, Marcia apologized: "Larry, I'm sorry. Forgive me."

Defeated, he sent her away, and she ran toward the elevator with Mel supporting her by the shoulders, as Lonesome pointed at them with a warning: "Listen, I'm not through yet. You know what's gonna happen to me?" Mel turned back, and in a long and slow tracking shot toward Lonesome as he approached, he predicted the fading star's future - he would have a comeback, of sorts, after a period of forgetting about him, but would never reacquire his past popularity and prestige, and would eventually be surpassed by a new face - such as Barry Mills:

Suppose I tell you exactly what's gonna happen to you. You're gonna be back in television. Only it won't be quite the same as it was before. There'll be a reasonable cooling-off period, and then somebody will say, 'Why don't we try him again in an inexpensive format? People's memories aren't too long.' And you know, in a way, he'll be right. Some of the people forget, and some of them won't. Oh, you'll have a show. Maybe not the best hour or, you know, top ten. Maybe not even in the top 35. But you'll have a show. It just won't be quite the same as it was before. Then a couple of new fellas will come along. And pretty soon, a lot of your fans will be flockin' around them. And then one day, somebody will ask:

'Whatever happened to what's-his-name? You know, the one who was so big. The number-one fella a couple of years ago. He was famous. How can we forget a name like that? Oh, by the way, have you seen, uh, Barry Mills? I think he's the greatest thing since Will Rogers.'

In response, Lonesome yelled to a dozing Beanie - to get him to crank up the volume on the applause machine. Mel entered the elevator with Marcia to descend to the street level where they hailed a taxi. Lonesome turned toward the lower balcony and screamed out for Marcia - catching her attention far below as she was about to board the taxi:

Marcia!... Don't leave me!...Marcia!...Come back, Marcia!...Marcia! Come back! Don't leave me! Don't leave me! Don't leave me! Marcia! Don't leave me! Come back! Come back! Come back!

Mel and Marcia both swiveled and looked upward to the penthouse apartment where they could hear Rhodes as he pitifully called out to her. To strengthen Marcia's resolve, Mel commented that they both could now admit that they had been duped and taken in by Lonesome, but had become stronger and wiser as a result:

I don't figure him for a suicide....You were taken in, just like we were all taken in. But we get wise to 'em and that's our strength. We get wise to 'em.

After ignoring the shouted pleas, their cab drove away and passed under a large, flashing Coca-Cola sign, while the sounds of New York City traffic began to drown out Lonesome's cries.

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